Gov. Pritzker signs sweeping energy legislation

By Rachel Hinton
Gov. J.B. Pritzker and first lady MK Pritzker, on right, join state legislators holding up the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act at the Shedd Aquarium after the governor signed it Wednesday. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed wide-ranging legislation overhauling Illinois’ energy sector on Wednesday, calling the bill a “giant leap forward” for the state as it works to address the effects of climate change and establish “aggressive” clean energy standards.

“We can’t outrun or hide from climate change — not to the north where the boundary waters burn, not to the south where Ida swallows lives and livelihoods in the blink of an eye. ... We’ve seen the effects of climate change right here in Illinois repeatedly in the last two and a half years alone: a polar vortex, devastating floods, microbursts that destroy buildings,” Pritzker said.

“There is no time to lose but what we can do, what we must do — and thanks to the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act — Illinois is doing, is to fight to stop, and even reverse, the damage that’s been done to our climate. As of today, Illinois is a force for good, for an environmental future we can be proud of.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a signing ceremony for the the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act at the Shedd Aquarium on Wednesday.

The governor was joined by the Democratic leaders of the Illinois House and Senate as well as legislators from both parties who served on the negotiating teams of those chambers at the Shedd Aquarium for the bill signing.

House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch said, “Today is for our children, today is for our children’s children” and said Illinois residents “win big today.”

“This bill puts our state on the path to a clean energy future that Illinois deserves, and it gives our state a very clear future,” the Hillside Democrat said, noting the bill was passed with bipartisan support in both chambers.

State Senate President Don Harmon said the bill signing was “two years in the making.” Despite “ups and downs, our ins and outs, our twists and turns” along the way, the state will “enact reliable, renewable and affordable energy policies that put Illinois in a position to lead the nation,” the Oak Park Democrat said.

State Senate President Don Harmon, left, joins House Speaker Chris Welch, center, and Gov. J.B Pritzker after the governor signed the Climate and Equitable Jobs at Shedd Aquarium on Wednesday.

State Rep. David Welter, R-Morris, and state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, were the only Republicans to speak at the event. Welter, whose district is home to half of the state’s nuclear fleet, said Democrats and Republicans care about a cleaner energy future though they have “a different view of how we get there and when we get there.”

“I feel this bill, although not perfect, was a compilation of a lot of work and a lot of time, a lot of effort to try to get us as close as possible,” Welter said.

State Rep. David Welter speaks about overcoming political differences in order to pass the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act at the Shedd Aquarium on Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm issued a statement lauding the signing of the legislation, saying it shows “just what bold state-level action can do to usher in the clean energy future.”

After months of negotiations on an energy bill, the Illinois Senate on Monday sent the legislation to Pritzker’s desk on a 37-17 vote — with three senators voting present — after the Illinois House voted 83-33 last week to pass the measure.

The legislation sets the state on a path to 100% clean energy by 2050 through a mix of providing subsidies to nuclear plants and setting closure timelines for coal and natural gas firing facilities among other things.

It provides nearly $700 million over five years to Exelon nuclear plants and requires municipal coal firing plants — such as Prairie State and Springfield’s City Water, Light and Power — to cut their emissions by 45% by 2035 before closing 10 years later unless they can generate green hydrogen or use similar technology to get to zero carbon emissions.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act at the Shedd Aquarium on Wednesday.

Included in the bill is a requirement for Exelon to apply for any federal relief that’s available — there are several pending proposals in Washington that would help Exelon “essentially recover, on behalf of the ratepayers, all the dollars that are being provided through the nuclear support program that we passed today,” state Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, said Monday after passage of the legislation.

The energy company planned to begin closing proceedings Monday for its Byron nuclear plant. The Dresden nuclear plant was slated to be taken offline in November.

Steam rises from the cooling towers at Exelon’s Byron nuclear power plant in 2011.

A spokesman for Exelon Generation, which oversees the nuclear plants, said in a statement both plants will be refueled “as a result of the action taken by the Illinois Legislature to enact a comprehensive energy bill.” The company will also “move to immediately fill hundreds of vacant positions and resume capital projects required for long-term operation” once the bill becomes law.

The expected cost of the bill for ratepayers varies, with state Rep. Marcus Evans, D-Chicago, saying the figure residential ratepayers would pay hovered around $3 more a month.

Sate Rep Marcus Evan speaks at the bill signing ceremony on Wednesday.

State Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Tinley Park, said Monday that figure was likely closer to $3.55, but AARP released a study that claims the figure might be closer to $15.

The bill ends the controversial formula rate system and transitions to a “performance-based” system that will be overseen by the Illinois Commerce Commission for utilities that serve more than 500,000 customers.

It also requires the Commerce Commission to investigate how ratepayer funds were used in line with actions by ComEd that were detailed in a deferred prosecution agreement involving the utility. That investigation could result in refunds to residential ratepayers.

The bill also requires utilities to establish the position of a chief ethics and compliance officer who must submit annual reports to the ICC.

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